Beyond Gamification – What eCommerce Can Learn From Modern Video Games

Beyond gamification - Image of modern gaming equipment.

Gamification has been around for years. The big apps in SEA, like Lazada and Shopee, use it. Big brands like Nike and Coca-Cola use it. Gamification is not really new, although you could say it is underutilized and underused by all but the biggest eCommerce players. 

But beyond gamification, what can eCommerce companies learn from modern video games? What do the latest games teach us about the experiences people enjoy? It is a big question, as in the next decade technology like VR may disrupt the traditional eCommerce customer experience.

So what can we learn from the current, most popular games and games machines on the planet (at the time of writing)?

A satirical image of Elden Ring with what is seen as "good" UI in some quarters.
Elden Ring with “Good” UI courtesy of Reddit User Gamboozino

Beyond Gamification – “Elden Ring” Causes An Existential Crisis In UX/UI 

FROM Software’s Elden Ring, released in February 2022, is already one of the most critically acclaimed games in history. It’s also sold 12 million copies worldwide. Elden Ring is one of the best video games ever made.

However Elden Ring also has a somewhat “arcane” approach to user experience and user interfaces (pun intended).

FROM Software games have a specific style and difficulty curve. They are known for being a bit obtuse in their approach to onboarding players. In fact the games make a point of not coddling the player in any way. This extends to the user experience and user interface.  With Elden Ring, their biggest release yet, this practice continued. Much to the bafflement and sadness of many games industry UX/UI professionals.

Ahmed Salama, UX Director at Ubisoft, tweeted The fact that Elden Ring scored a 97 metacritic is proof that reviewers don’t give a flaming poop about game UX. My life is a lie”. A few other UX professionals in the games industry joined in.

Gamers reacted as you would expect, with unrelenting mockery. The UX professionals who complained were seen as “salty” and as working for companies who make “bad games”. The UX professionals involved have since locked their Twitter accounts.

This is all very unedifying and no one really comes out of it well. But it also misses a somewhat uncomfortable truth for UX professionals. Can an experience be so good that it actually does not matter if the UX and UI elements are tough on the user? Or in extreme cases outright off-putting? 

There is no way a business could get away with the kind of UX/UI practices that you saw in Elden Ring at launch and that is because the experiences are not remotely comparable. But can they be?

VR Is Coming 

With tech like VR rapidly maturing and AR already here, are online storefronts going to be able to keep getting away with the bare minimum of effort in customer experience? If eCommerce on VR is to take off, do people really want to wander around virtual supermarkets buying things? Or do they want a totally different type of shopping experience? 

With engagement almost becoming the biggest priority behind actual orders, eCommerce businesses need to level up the types of experience they offer users. This could be the next commerce frontier, post-personalization. Demographics change and newer customers want a captivating experience that is entertaining and convenient. They may even be prepared to put up with some “rough edges” if that experience is amazing.

Put simply, would you rather put a VR headset on and buy sneakers in a virtual mall? Or would you rather try on your new sneakers inside an online virtual fashion show where you are the star attraction and everyone is singing your name? 

Everyone involved in eCommerce might have to start thinking about this sort of thing very soon…

Image of a Nintendo Switch playing Fortnite.
Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Beyond Gamification – What eCommerce Can Learn From Onboarding In Games

If you think about the complex systems a modern video game has to explain to the user, it’s a miracle anyone plays a game for more than five minutes.

Ardent gamers often complain about “hand holding” or “over long tutorials”. But for the majority of players who are not used to the general visual lexicon of video games, these tutorial sections are essential. A good tutorial means the game will get played and for many modern games that engagement is the target (which is not always a good thing…).

So games have to be amazing at bringing new players onboard. But a careful balance has to be struck. The best games tend to use a light touch on the user but offer support if it’s needed. The aforementioned Elden Ring, for example, actually has a tutorial section for players. But it’s very easy to miss and can just be skipped. The game lets the user discover the experience themselves. This is part of a three part funnel used in some games, mainly open world titles, to onboard new players. It could be replicated in eCommerce…


Letting the user find things for themselves, once basic mechanics are explained happens quite often in games. Nintendo doing this in “Breath Of The Wild” a few years ago is just one recent example. But discovery has to be subtly aided. While eCommerce sites will not have “controls” like a game, an eCommerce app does. So once the navigation and mechanics of the eCommerce app are explained to the user, the experience of using the app has to be compelling enough to keep them using it. 

This is sometimes referred to as the “a-ha” moment. But not many eCommerce experiences really give that to users. Which needs to change.

Inciting Action

No two user’s paths in an open world game are the same. They may all start at the same place, think of the vault in “Fallout 3”, but how they get to the next place is up to them. Some games guide users with a well-known Disney design concept called “weenies”. 

Weenies are used by Disney to guide customers around their parks, with each part of the park having a “weenie”. So when you go into Magic Kingdom at Disney Land you see the big castle and are subtly encouraged to go there. This happens in open world games. You start, you see a big building or mountain and you set off towards it. But a chunk of that open world game will happen to the player when they are on the way to that big landmark “weenie” they first saw.

eCommerce apps and sites also use “weenies”. These are usually the goals that they guide the user to complete. Whether it’s signing up for an account or making a purchase.

However, the majority of eCommerce apps and sites do not offer great experiences on the way to the action they want the user to take. Which can lead to high cart abandonment rates or the user deleting an app almost immediately after downloading it.

eCommerce companies should look at how open world games guide users to keypoints but also give them great experiences on the way to those points.

Keep It Simple

In games this applies to the controls you are asking the user to learn but also to the amount of text instructions on screen.

eCommerce apps and sites often tend to do this quite well. We all know that the number of clicks it takes the user to do something should be as small as possible. You should also not ask the user to read lots of complicated instructions. But sometimes this cannot be helped. 

For example if you sell financial products you have a legal and moral obligation to explain them properly. This is where businesses can learn something from games. In open world games, on screen textual instructions are often very concise. But if you have ever shopped for insurance online you will know that the instructions there are anything but concise.

One thing eCommerce businesses could consider is switching from text to video for very complex products. But giving the user a choice on how they receive this complex product information is a good start. Implementing some UX writing strategies will also help.

Beyond gamification - an image of an Xbox and PS5 controller
Photo by Kamil S on Unsplash

Beyond Gamification – Speed Matters And eCommerce Still Does Not Get It

SSD drives are commonplace in computers. On the latest consoles, games can load in half the time due to better hard drive technology. Your smartphone also likely loads things very quickly. You can order almost anything you want with a few taps

So why are eCommerce sites not doing more to combat slow site speeds?

Google has even made site speed a search ranking factor but a lot of eCommerce sites are still slow. Consumers already hate slow sites and the base expectation of speed will only increase over the next few years.

If you have an eCommerce business you should always aim to make your site run faster, every quarter. This could even be an OKR or business KPI for a team to follow.

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